The first casualty of the owner-driven lockout is the 2022 edition of spring training. Last week, MLB acknowledged the obvious by announcing that Cactus and Grapefruit League camp openings would be delayed while negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement continue. That means that the spring training schedule will at some point be shortened, and that hasn't happened since way back yonder in 1995.
In light of the current straits, a quick look back at the spring of 1995 is in order, but before we do that let's give a respectful nod to the mangled spring training of 2020. You'll grimly recall that the COVID-19 pandemic halted spring training that year. Because of COVID, MLB on March 13 of that year suspended spring training almost three weeks after Cactus and Grapefruit League games began, roughly a month after position players began reporting, and more than a month after pitchers and catchers first showed up. Negotiations of the structure of the 2020 season were fraught, and MLB wound up implementing a 60-game regular season that commenced on July 23. In advance of that date, players partook in a spring training reboot called "Summer Camp" that started in earnest on July 3. That left roughly three weeks of training, intrasquad contests, and a very limited number of games against outside teams before the start of the season.
For present purposes, however, the 1995 edition of spring training is most illuminating. Unlike 2020, it didn't start, stop, and restart with training complexes remaining open for part of the intermission. Like 2022, 1995 spring training was a delayed start and compressed schedule (although we certainly hope it won't be quite so delayed this time around). So now let's have a quick walking tour of 1995 spring training with some things to know about that whole thing and what led to it.
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Labor strife was the case of delayed spring training in 1995
It was all the result of the players' strike that began in August of 1994 and lasted 232 days. The '94 season began without a labor agreement in place, but owners' insistence upon a salary cap prompted the players to strike late in the regular season. Barely one month into the stoppage, acting commissioner Bud Selig announced the cancellation of the 1994 World Series. During the interminable course of the strike, the owners' lead negotiator resigned, a federal mediator tried and failed to bring the two sides together, owners implemented a salary cap, the union declared all unsigned players to be free agents, and Selig and his fellow owners -- minus Baltimore's Peter Angelos, who refused to partake in the farce -- populated spring rosters with replacement players/scabs for more than a month. Only a National Labor Relations Board complaint and injunction issued by future Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor brought Selig and the owners to heel and ended the strike. In addition to the entire 1994 postseason, 938 regular-season games were lost across the 1994 and 1995 seasons.
Pursuant to Sotomayor's March 31 ruling, the players ended the strike on April 2, 1995, which cleared the decks for a 144-game regular season.
There wasn't enough time for a full spring training
As you probably already deduced from those dates just noted, camps of the typical length were not possible. The first regular-season game was played on April 25, and then the first full slate took place on April 26. That left barely three weeks for spring training compared to the usual six or seven weeks. Cactus and Grapefruit League play didn't begin until April 13, which meant teams were to play a mere 12-game exhibition schedule. A few teams wound up with 13 games played but others logged just 10. The Atlanta Braves, who would go on to win the World Series in 1995, went just 3-8 that spring training, which is yet another reminder that spring records mean mostly nothing.
But players probably don't need a full spring training, anyway
Players will often say they don't need so much time to prepare for the regular season – certainly not 25 to 30 games, which is what the usual spring training yields. The 1995 exhibition season is proof of a kind of those claims. The docket of games and spring training calendar in '95 were both cut in half and then some, and also bear in mind how long the layoff had been. MLB players typically have October through early February off (a bit less time for those participating in the postseason), but in 1995 they'd been out of game action for almost exactly eight months. If anything, they should've required more time to get ready for the regular season back then, but that's of course not what happened.
"It was a shortened spring training, which I think a lot of guys would tell you is just fine anyway," Hall of Famer Tom Glavine recalled to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2020. "I know spring training is probably three weeks too long for the hitters, so most of it is geared toward getting your starting pitchers enough volume to go out there and be able to throw 100 pitches to start the year."
In 1995, however, it certainly wasn't "geared" that way for Glavine's teammate and fellow Hall of Famer Greg Maddux. Maddux that spring made only one start before coming down with a case of chicken pox and quarantining for the final 10 days of camp. Thanks to some work on the back fields, Maddux was still able to make his Opening Day start. He allowed one run on one hit in a win over the Giants. Despite nothing resembling a normal spring, Maddux that season would pitch to a 1.63 ERA in 28 starts and win the NL Cy Young award for the fourth straight year.
On a broader level, the shortened spring didn't seem to make much of a difference in terms league-wide performance. Have a look at some basic indicators across all of MLB for 1994 and 1995 and note that very little changed:
|Year/stat||MLB ERA||MLB runs/game||MLB K/BB ratio||MLB OPS|
If anything, there's no evidence that a shortened spring training negatively affected pitchers in any way. Players of course have plenty of incentives to ramp up properly for the regular season, and when they say they don't need as much time as spring training typically affords they should be taken at their word. In other words, a compromised 2022 spring training should have little bearing on regular-season performances at the league level.
The internet -- specifically Grailed.com -- says this is a 1995 Grapefruit League shirt for sale:
Here's the back of it:
Pictured on the back of the shirt are the missing games of that spring training. The reader, however, will note that nothing is there. This is because those games are not missing; rather, they never were. For something to go missing, it must first exist. These games did not exist, which is why they are best represented by the nothingness above. You should be quiet for a while, so profound is this.
Now here's a passage from SI's Tom Verducci regarding the replacement-player portion of spring training 1995:
"The Reds signed an outfielder named Motorboat Jones, who had played independent ball in 1994 after spending seven years in the Reds' organization, mostly in Class A and below. Jones had been mopping floors in Gadsden, Ala., for $120 a week. His brother, Speedboat Jones, a lefthanded pitcher who spent seven years in the minors with the Blue Jays and the Mariners, signed with Toronto."
There for those with nowhere left to turn? The Jones brothers, Motorboat and Speedboat.
This concludes the concluding remarks.